House passes DoD spending bill, prohibits furloughs in 2014

Thursday - 7/25/2013, 5:31am EDT

The Defense Department is scrubbing its financial books once again to see if it can reduce the number of furlough days for its civilian employees this year. But DoD officials also warned House Armed Services Subcommittee members Tuesday afternoon that furloughs easily could turn into layoffs if sequestration continues into fiscal 2014.

Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.), the chairman of the Subcommittee on Readiness, said the briefing by Robert Hale, DoD comptroller and undersecretary of defense, Alan Estevez, assistant secretary for logistics and material readiness, and Pat Tamburrino, chief of staff to the undersecretary of personnel and readiness, laid out the short and long-term challenges DoD is facing due to sequestration.

The briefing came the day before the full House debated and passed the fiscal 2014 Defense Appropriations bill.

$28 billion above sequestered amount

The House approved the measure 315 to 109, making it the fourth appropriations bill to be passed by the lower chamber this summer.

Rep. Robert Wittman (R-Va.)

House lawmakers allocated $512 billion in non-war funding, a decrease of $5.1 billion below the fiscal 2013 enacted level and approximately $28.1 billion above the current level caused by automatic sequestration spending cuts.

Additionally, the House approved an amendment from Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) that "prohibits funds from being used to furlough DoD federal employees paid from the Working Capital Fund, which is a revolving fund and does not receive direct congressional appropriations," and an amendment from Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) that "prohibits funds from being used to implement sequester-related furloughs of civilian DoD employees."

DoD decided earlier this month that it does have the authority to furlough employees who get paid through a working fund.

But Pentagon officials warned House lawmakers Tuesday what the impact of sequestration will look like over the next 15 months.

"There might be a chance of them reducing the number of furlough days. Undersecretary Hale said that is still on the table and they are looking at other areas where they are saving money," Wittman said. "They haven't made any decisions yet, but that is first and foremost on the table. They are looking at a variety of ways to do that between now and the end of the current budget year."

Hale didn't provide lawmakers with a timeline to decide if DoD can reduce the number of furlough days civilian employees face. Most already have taken two or three days.

Worst case scenario details

Wittman said he hopes DoD will make the decision within the next 30 days.

"Undersecretary Hale said they are in the process of evaluating where they are currently, where cost savings are being accrued and where the current furlough implementation is resulting in savings," he said. "The later they get into it, the more difficult it is. He didn't give a time specific or period specific, but they are analyzing the information coming in as to how the furloughs are being implemented, and that, he said, would be the foundation from which they would make a decision about how to reduce the number of days of furloughs."

DoD officials also detailed what will happen under the worst case scenario next year. Wittman said DoD officials said $52 billion would be cut from the budget if Congress doesn't act.

"We were asking for scenarios there and if there would be furloughs there into the next year," he said. "Undersecretary Hale said they would do everything they could to avoid furloughs, but they also would be looking at reductions in force on the DoD civilian side and also on the uniform service side. What he spoke about was, being able to save that number of dollars becomes more difficult to do it over the period of the year. This most recent reduction was about $37 billion over a portion of the year."

Under the House version of the DoD spending bill, furloughs would no longer be an option.

Wittman, who spoke before the House vote, said the goal is to meet the requirements of the Budget Control Act by cutting other areas throughout government spending and not have DoD take so much of the burden.

Both the appropriators and authorizers have tried to put money back into the DoD spending bill as shown by the $28 billion increase in 2014.

"The vast majority of my colleagues understand that the sequester is illogical and disproportionately impacting DoD," Wittman said. "But there is a large number of people who want cuts made and are less sympathetic for how they are made. I think when they realize the impact on DoD, they say, there has to be a more thoughtful in how we do it."

Stay in Washington this August?

Wittman is encouraging his colleagues not to return to their districts in August and finish legislating.

Wittman said he hears from constituents on a daily basis about the impact of budget cuts on DoD employees.

"I think people are concerned on several different levels. First of all, how it affects them personally. Obviously, having a 20 percent cut in your take home pay is a significant impact," he said. "Many folks are concerned about the jobs they do. Many say they still have 100 percent of the job to do, but only have 80 percent of the time to do it, and if that job isn't getting done, then that impacts the readiness of this nation and men and women in uniform. It's a very frustrating time for these folks."

He added he hears a lot about fear of uncertainty, the fear of work not getting done and the fear of further budget cuts.

"The people I'm talking to are focused on reducing the impact on the Defense budget because they realize what it means to this nation's military and what it means for us to defend ourselves," he said. "As far as the total reduction in the budget, lots of folks up here, including myself, are committed to reducing the budget and committed to that target number to make sure we are living within our means and finding ways in other areas of the budget to do that. The appropriations process allows us to be more thoughtful and to make those priority decisions."

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